We left together early in the morning, sharing a cab into London where Winterhawk would catch his flight and me my freighter at the docks. Aubrey, of course, had been there to see us off, fussing over Winterhawk in his usual way (and even over me a little), making sure he had everything he needed, looking lonely and forlorn but trying hard to hide it. "When will you be back again, sir?" he'd asked.
Winterhawk had shrugged and said, "I'm not sure, Aubrey. Maybe in a month or two. I need some time away from here." He had gripped the old man's shoulder in farewell, then turned back to the waiting cab, where our bags had already been loaded into the trunk (all except for my "special" duffel bag, of course, which I hadn't let the cabbie touch).
I looked back out the window as the cab drew away; Aubrey stood there at the top of the steps by the front door, watching us silently. He did not wave. The gravel of the drive cracked under the cab's tires as we gained speed, and I lost sight of Aubrey and Stone Manor as the road turned sharply to the right and went into a clump of trees. I wondered if I'd ever be coming back here.
Winterhawk did not look back. His eyes were fixed resolutely forward, toward the iron gate and beyond. As we left his land and got out onto public road, I asked him, "You gonna take some time off in Seattle?"
He shook his head. "No, I don't think so. I think getting back to work will be the best thing for me. It'll help me forget."
"Yeah," I agreed. "You're probably right." I lapsed into silence for the rest of the trip, leaning back in the uncomfortable seat to watch the gray scenery flash by. I think the driver, a smallish Troll wearing a greasy cap, sensed that we did not wish to engage in small talk, so he too kept quiet. After a bit we entered London, and after negotiating some horrendous morning traffic, the cabbie pulled up in front of the airport terminal.
"Here y'are, sir," he said to Winterhawk. Opening the door, he got out and went to the trunk to take out the bags.
Winterhawk, too, got out. "Well," he said to me, "Goodbye for now. I'll see you in Seattle in a few days."
I nodded. "Yeah. Have a good flight."
"I will." He paused, then looked at me soberly. "You know—after...after we get back to Seattle, I want to put this behind me if I can. But before that, I wanted to thank you, too, for what you did. You helped get me through this as much as Aubrey did. I want you to know I appreciate it."
For a moment, I didn't speak. I could sense that this was making him as uncomfortable as it was me, but that he felt he had to say it. "No problem," I finally said. Then, more quietly, "I liked that kid too, you know."
He nodded. "Yes. I know." The Troll came up with his luggage, and he paid him and took the bags without further comment to me. Glancing back at me one last time, he shifted the bags to more comfortable positions, turned, and hurried off into the crowd. I watched his retreating form until I couldn't see it anymore amid the crowds of travelers.
The driver got back in the cab with a loud sigh. "All right, that's that, sir. Now we'll get ye to the docks. Takin' a cruise, are ye?" His broad, toothy face split in what I think was supposed to be a friendly smile.
"Kind of," I said, settling back into my seat and tightening my grip on my duffel bag. "More like—going home."